New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg took a shot at those criticizing the construction of a Muslim community center and mosque near Ground Zero on Tuesday, asking rhetorically whether a new mosque could ever be built near the property that once held the World Trade Center.
“The question will then become how big should the no-mosque zone around the World Trade Center be?” Bloomberg told a Muslim-American audience at a dinner celebrating the breaking of the fast during Ramadan. “There is already a mosque four blocks away. Should it, too, be moved?”
While opponents argue that Bloomberg mischaracterized their arguments (no one is calling for the mosques already near Ground Zero to be shut down), it does raise the question of how far any new mosques would need to be from the site to avoid such a tremendous national uproar.
Many of the project’s prominent critics have said that Park51, the group heading up the site, is building the Muslim community center “too close” to Ground Zero. However, few of them have specified, (even when pressed), just how far away the mosque needs to be in order to receive their approval. Many of them oppose it on grounds that it is insensitive to the memory of those who lost their lives in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. But when asked to suggest a specific distance that the site needs to be from Ground Zero, few are willing to elaborate further.
Illinois Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn, for instance, said last week that there should be a “zone of solemnity” around sites like Ground Zero, but did not specify how far such a zone should spread.
“I do believe that there are special places on Earth that should have a zone of solemnity around them,” he said last week. “I would strongly urge those who are thinking of putting a mosque within that zone to rethink their position.”
When asked for specifics, a spokesman from the Illinois governor’s office pointed to the August 20th press conference in which Quinn addressed the issue. While the governor did explain his reasoning during the briefing, he did not provide a precise distance. A request for a further explanation from the governor’s office went unanswered.
Former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich has said that he would approve of a mosque if it were near Central Park, which is just beyond four miles off the site. Likewise, former Republican Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin has criticized the mosque’s position on grounds that it is “steps away from where radical Islamists killed 3000 people.”
Additionally, a spokesman for House Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, simply said that Reid thinks the community center should “be built someplace else.”
So how many “steps away,” exactly, would a mosque need to be to avoid controversy?
It’s just not that simple, said Robert Spencer, author and editor of the website Jihad Watch, adding that it would be impossible to pin down an exact appropriate location for an Islamic center in the neighborhood.